Love Heals
Empowered by Love

Promise of Home

Promise of Home

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 20-25

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

17 March 2024

            Through her TED Talk, podcast, and best-selling books, the psychotherapist Esther Perel has become one of America’s most trusted voices on relationships.   Helping us understand how the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. As she writes, “We magnify the good qualities of those we love, and confer on them almost mythical powers.  We transform them, and we in turn are transformed in their presence.”

A pretty intoxicating experience.  Something we obviously desire and long for.

            The beginning of a new relationship can be so exciting.  Here is her description:

Beginnings are always ripe with possibilities, for they hold the promise of completion.  Through love we imagine a new way of being.  You see me as I’ve never seen myself.  You airbrush my imperfections, and I like what you see.  With you, and through you, I will become that which I long to be.  I will become whole.  Being chosen by the one you chose is one of the glories of falling in love.  It generates a feeling of intense personal importance.  I matter.  You confirm my significance.

            She adds that so much of the beginning of a relationship is filled with dreams and fantasies.  Sometimes the long-term reality fits those hopes, but often it doesn’t. 

            At the core of her approach is a tension she sees in most contemporary American relationships between security and freedom.  When we first fall in love with someone it is because they excite us, there is a sense of adventure, sometimes risk even.  But what we long for in a serious, long-term relationship, particularly in marriage, is security, stability, reliability.  Herein lies the tension.  We want one person to provide both constancy and excitement.  In her practice of counseling couples, she finds that this tension is almost always at the root of whatever problem has brought them into therapy.

            She believes this tension has been exacerbated in the United States by a decline in our friendships and other social relationships.  She writes that “modern life has deprived us of our traditional resources, and has created a situation in which we turn to one person for the protection and emotional connections that a multitude of social networks used to provide.  Adult intimacy has become overburdened with expectations.”  In essence, one person cannot be all things for us.  We need friends, family, work, other outlets and support systems.

            Our need for reliability and constancy also, she says, leads to neutralizing the beloved’s complexity and limiting their ability to grow and change.  She writes, “Our need for constancy limits how much we are willing to know the person who’s next to us.  We are invested in having him or her conform to an image that is often a creation of our own imagination, based on our own set of needs.”

            Esther Perel does believe there are steps we can take to address these tensions and work on the issues that arise.  That is her profession—a relationship therapist.  And her books and talks are filled with ideas on how to heighten curiosity, excitement, play, and adventure within long-term relationships.  For a loving relationship ought to make us feel more alive.

            Which is one of the themes we’ve already explored in this Lenten series on love.  We are using Simon May’s idea that love is the joyful response we have to the promise of finding ourselves rooted in another person.  That sort of love, he says, manifests itself in four experiences—feeling more alive, feeling at home, being empowered, and being called to a new self.  We’ve been taking these points one at a time, and today are focused on the experience of feeling at home in love.

            The first week in this series, I discussed how May believes love arises from our universal human experience of exile.  That because we arrive into a world not of our choosing and have to learn to make our way in it, we long to be rooted and grounded in that effort.  He claimed that this origin of love can be seen in the story of Adam and Eve being exiled from the Garden of Eden.  This ancient myth describes the archetypal human experience of feeling uprooted and desiring to find a home.

            And desiring to find a home is key to this biblical text from Deuteronomy and the experience of the ancient Hebrews in the stories of the Exodus and the journey to a Promised Land. 

            According to Simon May this idea that in love we are searching for a home is evident in the core stories of Western Civilization.  In the Bible here in the stories of the Exodus and also of Abraham and Sarah and their journey to a new land to establish a new home.  The other archetypal story he says is the Odyssey, as Odysseus spends decades trying to get back home to Ithaca and his wife Penelope, his efforts constantly thwarted by gods, witches, and monsters. 

            In the Odyssey, May says Odysseus must face a series of challenges, all of which present counterfeits of the true love that awaits him at home.  Odysseus must overcome any temptation to settle.  The story also reveals that finding our true love, our sense of home, can be long endeavor, with dangers faced along the way.

            In the biblical stories of Genesis and Exodus, May says we learn that our home in the world often isn’t found where we start out, but is, instead, something we must journey toward.  It is a new place we must go.  And that our help in getting there is the covenantal God, who inspires us and teaches us how to love. 

            From the biblical stories we also learn that “the way of love is strewn with difficulties, some of them self-inflicted.”  I liked this powerfully written sentence, “Even when an overwhelming promise of love is staring us in the face, golden calves beckon everywhere.”

            Another aspect of love that we learn from the biblical stories is that “rootedness is promised; it isn’t guaranteed.”  May writes, “There is no endpoint at which home is secured once and for all, and so at which love’s orientation to the future ceases.”  Instead, the biblical stories remind us that we are constantly moving forward, looking to the promises of the future.

            Simon May concludes that the biblical stories teach us that “to love well is not a matter of merely celebrating a promise offered by the loved one, or seeking a relationship with him or her of comforting stability, but involves tremendous effort and risk, patience and responsibility.”

            This is because the Bible teaches us that genuine love is with “all your heart, all your soul, all your might.”  A hard and demanding task.

            I feel like May’s discussion of the biblical lessons resonates with Perel’s contemporary psychotherapeutic advice.  For Simon May, the love we learn from God and the Bible is a love that offers us the promise of home, but it is never a boring, settled place.  The sense of home that love provides is “a reliable place in the world,” but which makes us more alive.  For love to flourish and truly provide us a sense of home, we must always be turned toward the future promise and taking the risk of loving fully.  May describes the promise of home as presenting “thrilling new possibilities for your flourishing and freedom.”

            This is not the boring sense of constancy Esther Perel worriedly sees in many marriages.  Instead, the biblical promise of home, provides both safety and excitement, and in that way, evokes our sense of wonder.

            So, if Esther Perel is right about the tension that underlies most relationship problems in the United States today—this tension between security and freedom—then it seems that the idea of love we draw from the Bible and our experience of God offers a healthy response.  To be at home is never to be boringly settled, but to always be journeying together into a future of promise, full of adventure, excitement, wonder, flourishing, and freedom.  And it is precisely because true love offers that aliveness that we find it to be safe, constant, and reliable.


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